The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which was approved by the government in 2020, but yet to be implemented, gives emphasis on learning mother tongue along with other languages. This will bring a four-language policy wherein a student can learn Hindi, English, a regional language and mother tongue.
“The idea is that students should get the flexibility to study language of their choice. Rather than forcing one language to all,” an official said.
Under the policy, there is a provision to change the medium of instruction till at least the fifth grade. The policy allows mother tongue to be used as the medium of instruction till at least fifth grade but preferably till eighth grade and beyond.
As part of the NEP, the education ministry is also setting up a task force for preparing a roadmap for imparting technical education in mother tongue. This would include programmes like B.Tech in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
What does this mean for schools, colleges and students?
For educational institutes, the first step will be to invest in teachers speaking multiple languages. Currently, mostly teachers speak English, regional language and/or Hindi. Under NEP 2020, schools and colleges would have to either train the existing teachers to teach in different languages or get additional staff.
“It will definitely be an added expense but we like the idea of letting students’ study in a language of their choice. However, we will have to look into the logistics depending on how many students choose which language,” said R K Gupta, principal of Kolkata-based Aim High School.
At the school level, there will be language-preference taken from each student and then teachers will be assigned accordingly. However, it is likely that each language would need a minimum quorum (20-25 percent) for a teacher to be assigned.
For instance, if only one student in a class of 35 pupils opts for studying in his/her mother tongue then it won’t be feasible for the particular school to appoint a new teacher.
At the higher education level, however, things are different. Industry experts and professors at engineering institutes are of the view that the ministry would first need to look at the availability of teachers and applicability in professional jobs.
“An engineering student may find it tough to get a Tamil or Bangla teacher to explain technical concepts. We just don’t have faculty who can translate pure mechanical or computer science engineering terms to the local languages. Say even if we train these teachers, won’t these graduates find it tough at an employer where English is the primary language used,” said an IIT professor.
For students, there are concerns around being able to find relevant schools if parents get transferred or finding jobs after higher education in case, they choose their mother tongue.
Mumbai’s Saksham Purkayastha who is in the 9th grade said that his father has a transferrable public-sector job. Purkayastha is worried about being forced to study in a particular language and later finding it tough to adapt into an English-medium school.
“Say if I am mandated to only study in Gujarati or Marathi, will a school from Tamil Nadu or West Bengal accept me as a student in case my father gets transferred there. For children whose parents get transferred to a new state every two to three years, this is not a viable option,” he added.
Similarly, Chennai-based second-year engineering student Vignesh Sasikiran said that going abroad for higher education will get tougher if students’ study in a regional language.
“One can always learn their mother tongue and regional language at home. If I am made to study engineering in Tamil for instance, what will happen to my plans of doing a Masters in the United States? I may find it tough to grasp basic engineering concepts in English there,” he added.
When will be it implemented?
Sources said that the government is studying various aspects of the language policy and implementation will be over the next two years.
The first step will be introducing mother tongue-based instructions up to fifth grade in schools. It is likely that this will be launched in central government schools in the first phase.
In the next phase, engineering and technical education institutes will be part of the programme. Here, no student can be denied a seat if he/she wants to study only in their mother tongue.